Tag: immigration

Immigration and Terrorism

Cato published a paper of mine today entitled “Terrorism and Immigration: A Risk Analysis.”  I began this paper shortly after the San Bernardino terrorist attack in December last year when it became clear that few had attempted a terrorism risk analysis of immigration in general, let alone focusing on individual visa categories.  There were few studies on the immigration status of terrorists and the vast majority of them were qualitative rather than quantitative.  Inspired by the brilliant work of John Mueller and Mark Stewart, I decided to make my own.  

From 1975 through the end of 2015, 154 foreign-born terrorists murdered 3024 people on U.S. soil.  During that same time period, over 1.14 billion foreigners entered the United States legally or illegally.  About 7.4 million foreigners entered the United States for each one who ended up being a terrorist.  Startlingly, 98.6 percent of those 3024 victims were murdered on 9/11 (I did not count the terrorists as victims, obviously).  However, not every terrorist is successful.  Only 40 of those 154 foreign-born terrorists actually ended up killing anyone on U.S. soil.    

Immigrants frequently enter the United States on one visa and adjust their status to another.  Many tourists and other non-immigrants frequently enter legally and then fall out of status and become illegal immigrants.  I focused on the visas foreigners used to enter the United States because applications for that visa are when security screenings are initially performed. 

Let’s Stop Discriminating Against Immigrants From Populous Nations

Immigrants from India waiting to receive residency in the United States may die before they receive their green cards. The line is disproportionately long for Indians because the law discriminates against immigrants from populous countries, skewing the immigration flow to the benefit of immigrants from countries with fewer people. This policy—a compromise that resolved a long-dead immigration dispute—is senseless and economically damaging.

In the 1920s, Congress imposed the first-ever quota on immigration, but rather than just a worldwide limit, it also distributed the numbers between countries in order to give preference to immigrants from “white” countries. In 1965, Congress repealed this system with one that allowed immigrants from any country to receive up to seven percent of the green cards issued each year. This was an improvement, but is an anachronism today and it is causing its own pointless discrimination.

The per-country limits treat each nation equally, but not each immigrant equally. China receives the same treatment as Estonia, but immigrants from Estonia who apply today could receive their visas this year, while immigrants from China who apply today could have to wait a generation. It is equality in theory and inequality in practice. It is arbitrary and unfair.

Immigrants Are Not Causing Low-Skill Natives to Quit Working

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) released a report by Jason Richwine last week entitled “Immigrants Replace Low-Skill Natives in the Workforce.” The Cato Institute has previously pointed out the inaccuracies, methodological tricks, and disingenuous framing that have plagued CIS’s reports on numerous occasions, but this latest report performs poorly even relative to those prior attempts. More importantly, its underlying numbers actually buttress the case for expanding legal immigration.

The report’s central finding is that the share of native-born high school dropouts in their prime who are not working has grown at the same time as the population of similarly educated immigrants. While Mr. Richwine explicitly states that this finding “does not necessarily imply that immigrants push out natives from the workforce,” he goes on to imply exactly that throughout the report, blaming immigrants for “causing economic and social distress.” 

First of all, “distress” would imply that at least some more prime-age, lesser-skilled natives are out of work—i.e. unemployed or out of the labor force—now than prior to the wave of immigration in the 1990s. But this is incorrect. The numbers of such workers in their prime (ages 25 to 54) actually declined by 25 percent from 1995 to 2014, according to Census data. For the last decade, the number has remained roughly constant. Richwine is just wrong to state that “an increasing number of the least-skilled Americans [are] leaving the workforce.” (Note that while the CIS report focuses on native men, the trends in all of the following figures are the same direction regardless of sex.)

“We Take Anybody” – Trump’s Central Premise Is False

In his speech last night, Donald Trump stated that “immigration as a share of national population is set to break all historical records” and promised to restore a “historical norm.” It is the underlying premise behind his entire speech. His “deportation task force,” E-Verify, and all the rest is all about enforcing a lower rate of immigration and ending “an open border to the world.”  “We take anybody,” he said later. “Come on in, anybody.” He couldn’t be more wrong.

The United States has accepted roughly one million immigrants per year as permanent residents. As a share of the population, this number contributes 0.32 percent of the population. The historical average is 0.45 percent—nowhere close to extreme. As you can see, the immigration norm that we abandoned in the 1920s was much higher than the levels that we are seeing today. 

Figure 1: Historical Immigration Rate (Legal Permanent Residents as a Share of U.S. Population)

Source: Department of Homeland Security

Another way to view the rate of immigration is to look at the net increase in the total foreign-born population—which includes unauthorized immigrants—as a share of the overall population. The Census Bureau’s records on the foreign-born population only go back to 1850, but the annual rate of increase in recent years is also well within historical norms. The aberration was the 1930s to 1960s when the foreign-born population shrank in size. The United States is returning to its historical average of 0.21 percent. The rate in 2014 was 0.22 percent.

Figure 2: Annual Increase in the Total Foreign-Born Population as a Share of Total Population (Decadal Averages)

Source: Census Bureau

After Welfare Reform, Immigrants Thrived Without Federal Benefits

Twenty years ago last week, Congress enacted the most extensive welfare reform law since the 1960s, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. Cato scholars have long championed a particular aspect of the reform bill that excluded recent legal immigrants from federal means-tested public benefits and have argued for extending the law’s restrictions. Welfare reform was successful: immigrants thrived without government support.

The theory behind welfare reform was that depriving benefits from immigrants would incentivize those already here to find jobs and encourage only those who wanted to work to come. This theory has appeared to work out in practice. Following the law’s enactment, immigrants who were most likely to be targeted by its restrictions responded by working more, which decreased the prevalence of poverty in their households.  

Libertarian Candidate Gary Johnson’s Proposal Would End Illegal Immigration

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, the former-governor of New Mexico, wrote a remarkable op-ed for CNN yesterday detailing his views on immigration reform. The piece included the following:

Our politicians, both right and left, have created a system for legal immigration that simply doesn’t work. We have artificial quotas. We have “caps” on certain categories of workers that have no real relationship to the realities of the free market. It’s no coincidence that recent history shows the only successful way to reduce illegal immigration is to have a recession. Over the past 10 years, both illegal entries and the number of undocumented immigrants in the country have declined. That’s not because the government did anything right. ….

Try this, instead: No caps. No categories. No quotas. Just a straightforward background check, the proper paperwork to obtain a real Social Security number and work legally or prove legitimate family ties, and a reliable system to know who is coming and who is going.

Gov. Johnson is correct to reject government-mandated immigration quotas. As I argued in a recent blog post, quotas are the definition of an unreasonable immigration policy—they literally have no reason behind them. They are no different than Soviet manufacturing quotas, and they have the exact same effect: discord in the free market—surpluses where workers are unneeded, shortages where they are needed, and black markets that inevitably results when government makes movement illegal.

Not to quibble, but Gov. Johnson shouldn’t give the poor economy all of the credit for declining illegal immigration in recent years. In fact, a significant portion of the credit can be attributed to doing what he says—granting more work visas. As the figure below shows, the number of work visas is inversely correlated to the number of illegal entries. During the 1950s and 1960s, illegal immigration almost disappeared during the Bracero guest worker program. Then, in recent years, less strict visa rules have resulted in more legal immigration and less illegal immigration.

7 Reasons Why Hitting 2016’s Refugee Goal Would Be a Major Achievement

Responding to the worldwide refugee crisis—which the United Nations has called “the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era”—President Obama vowed last September that the United States would accept 10,000 Syrian refugees and 85,000 refugees total over the following 12 months. With much fanfare, the State Department hit its Syrian refugee quota this week. But with just one month left, it is still 15,000 short of its overall target, and if it continues at its current pace, it will come up 3,000 short.

But here are seven reasons why hitting the target would be a major accomplishment.

1) A slow start: The biggest reason that the State Department is cutting it close is that it suffered one of its slowest starts in recent years.  In the prior three fiscal years (FYs), the refugee target was 70,000, and yet even with a higher goal this year, the United States had accepted fewer refugees at the midpoint of this year than at the same time in any of those years (the purple bolded line in the chart below). While the United States has usually ramped up slightly during the second half of prior years, it has taken an historic effort to catch up this year.

Figure: Monthly Refugee Admissions to the United States (FY 2013-FY 2016)


Source: State Department

2) Most refugees in a month ever: If the United States is to reach its goal this year, it will need to accept nearly 15,000 refugees in September. This is more than any month that the State Department has made available since 2001 and possibly the most ever. Although month-by-month statistics are unavailable for the record year of FY 1992 when the United States admitted 132,000 refugees, the average monthly intake was only 11,000, making it possible that this September will be the most ambitious month in history.

3) Late planning: A major reason for the slow start is that the agencies had planned throughout FY 2015 to accept only 75,000 in FY 2016. It was not until two weeks before the start of the year that Secretary of State John Kerry changed course and decided to increase the number by 10,000. The agencies scrambled to adjust, but it took time to ramp up. “As an operational person and for planning purposes, I had anticipated an increase from 70,000 to 75,000,” Barbara Strack, Refugee Affairs Division Chief of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), told Congress on October 1st last year. In order to meet the goal, the agency needed to “surge” hundreds of refugee officers into Jordan from February to April to conduct enough interviews to meet the goal.